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PROSPECT – The sidewalk is still there. So is the foundation. But the Sail Inn Restaurant is not.
The Maine Department of Transportation ordered the building demolished last weekend as part of the construction of the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge. The building was dismantled Saturday, and the debris removed from the site.
The action came as a surprise to the Dyer family, which had owned the restaurant and 5 acres it sat on until the state took the property by eminent domain in 2003 for the bridge project. The Dyers contested the amount the state offered for the restaurant and eventually took their complaint to court. They expected their case to go before a jury this fall.
“We were in litigation,” Dick Dyer, a brother of the current owners who has acted as a family spokesman on this issue, said Monday. “This building was very much a part of that litigation. I don’t see why they took it down now.”
The Dyers’ father started the restaurant in 1948 and built a new building to house the business in 1968. Sons Paul and Robert took over the business and were running the restaurant when the state took the property.
Dick Dyer said it was his understanding that the building would not be torn down until the court case had been resolved. There were rumors earlier in the year that the department planned to tear down the building, he said.
“We got some type of restraining order,” he said. “We thought that had taken care of it.”
He suggested the demolition may have been the department’s response to stories that appeared in recent weeks updating the progress of the court case. The Dyers’ complaint not only challenges the amount offered by the state for the property, it also questions whether the property was wrongfully taken in the first place.
“It seems like it coincided with those other stories,” he said. “All of a sudden they took it down because it reminded everybody that it didn’t need to go.”
The department, however, had planned to remove the building before those newspaper stories appeared. Although there was an agreement in effect, it did not prohibit the demolition of the building, according to Carol Morris, a DOT spokesperson for the bridge project.
“As part of an agreement between DOT lawyers and the Dyers’ lawyers, there is a clause in there whereby we would provide at least 14 days’ notice before removing the building,” Morris said Monday. “That was a concession we made because we knew it was an emotional issue for the family.”
DOT attorneys sent notification to the Dyers’ attorney more than four weeks ago, she said, and had not received any response.
According to Dyer, his brothers had not been notified. He said he had not been able to contact family attorneys because of the holiday Monday.
There were reasons the building needed to be removed now, Morris said. The department is now preparing to connect the bridge deck to the new Route 1 approach and crews will be doing a lot of back-filling in the area near the former restaurant site, she said. In addition, DOT is preparing for the Bridgewalk this Saturday which will be a formal unveiling of the bridge to the general public.
“We wanted it done for the weekend,” Morris said. “At this point, the building is relatively unattractive, and we’re trying to shape the site up to be as close to looking what it will look like next spring when it is completed and landscaped.”
With all the activity now being focused on that end of the bridge, Morris said, it was time to remove the building.
The Dyers, however, are not accepting the removal of the building quietly. They have planned a protest to coincide with the Bridgewalk on Saturday. The protest will be held on adjacent property owned by the Dyers’ mother.
“There are a lot of people who have followed this over the last three years,” he said. “They’ve been very concerned about the process, and now they are angry that it’s been torn down.”